Pretoria starts diplomatic drive

Today’s dispatch from Straits Times Foreign Desk reporter Derwin Pereira, now on assignment in South Africa, focuses on how the Pretoria government is using diplomacy to fight its economic problems. He also reports on South Africa’s bid to establish economic ties with countries in Asia.

Move to expand trade links with Asia while strengthening ties with Europe

CAPE TOWN – The new South African government is taking steps to establish and strengthen links with other countries to bail out of its economic woes after years of being isolated by the international community for its apartheid policies.

Besides strengthening links with traditional trading partners like the United States and Europe, Pretoria was also looking to expand economic relations with countries in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, said Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad.

“We were living in isolation and had a distorted foreign policy aimed at breaking sanctions,” he told The Straits Times in an interview. “We now want to return to a normal policy and interact with the world at different levels to help our economic growth.”

Like other ministries under the government of national unity, the Foreign Ministry’s priorities are dictated by the country’s reconstruction and development programme.

The US$12 billion (S$18 billon) programme entails building more than a million homes within the next five years, creating 2 1/2 million jobs and improving education and health facilities.

Mr Pahad said South Africa had to sell the programme abroad to secure foreign resources and investment.

Given the country’s sanctions-battered past, he said the government would step up economic relations with its traditional trading partners – the US and the European Union.

“We maintained economic ties with these countries but they were limited and were never allowed to blossom,” he said, adding that investors were hesitant to put their money in a country where they were not sure what was going to happen.

“Our big task now is to consolidate that relationship,” said the 54-year-old Mr Pahad who spent a good part of his career in the African National Congress trying to isolate South Africa through demonstrations and solidarity campaigns.

Beyond its traditional partners, Pretoria was also keen to expand economic ties with nations in the South, he said. These included Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, India and China.

Mr Pahad said: “We have never had proper links with Asian countries. Now’s the time to build on them.

“We have a lot in common in terms of tradition and similar institutions.”

Nations in the Middle East and Latin America were also on the list.

Closer home, he said that South Africa’s relationship with the African continent was fundamental to the country’s broader interests. Besides joining the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), South Africa was also considering being a member of the South African Development Community.

“We believe that the region has the potential to become an economic powerhouse,” he said.

In the interview at his Cape Town office, he said that South Africa’s contacts with the global community was boosted by its entry this month into the UN, Commonwealth, Non-Aligned Movement and the OAU.

China or Taiwan? —————-

UNDER debate now is South Africa’s policy towards China and Taiwan, two of the country’s largest trading partners. While a modus operandi has yet to be worked out, Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad hinted that South Africa might have to forego its ties with Taiwan should Pretoria establish diplomatic relations with China.

“The reality is that China is emerging to become one of the growing economies in the world and is going to play a major role in international politics,” he said.

He added that Beijing had made it very clear that it would not accept a “two-China” policy.

“Our decision will be based on international precedents and our national interests,” he said.

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